My personal wardrobe crisis

My personal wardrobe crisis

This is a big, long, mess of a post, and I’m declaring that with confidence before I’ve written a single sentence of it. But what I’m going to attempt to write about right now is a gigantic tangled mess in my head, which is the whole point — if I could untangle it into a clear and logical string of thoughts for a nice, tidy post, then it wouldn’t be the problem that it is, and there’d be no need to write about it at all. The problem is my wardrobe. (A “first-world problem,” to be sure.)

I’m not even sure where to start talking about it. My closet is a disaster — clothes literally spilling out of it. I can’t walk in there because the (small) floor is covered in shoes I don’t wear. Clean laundry is piled up on a chair to one side of the closet because it’s too much work to try to squeeze it in where it belongs. Pajamas and exercise clothes are heaped on a railing on the other side of the door, and there’s dry-cleaning draped over the rail opposite that. Across the bedroom is a big IKEA wardrobe, half of which is also mine, and I mostly don’t have any idea what’s in there. I could go on, but you get the picture.

I’d love to just go into the closet and cull, cull, cull, but the central part of the problem is that I don’t really know who I am right now, sartorially speaking.

For nine years in the aughts, I was running a website for readers and writers, and working as a freelance book editor and author. I worked from home. And home, for the last four of those years, was convenient to nothing and no one. I didn’t leave the house much, and there was no point in getting dressed to sit by myself inside all day where nobody ever saw me. I also was reluctant to spend money on clothes, so what I did buy was off of outlet mall clearance racks. I dreaded meetings, knowing I had nothing appropriate to wear. I was quite the dumpy hausfrau, unrecognizable from the clotheshorse I’d always been, and my poor husband rarely saw me in anything other than pajamas. It got to where I feared Stacy and Clinton might show up in my kitchen one day. Then I went back to working in an office, in downtown San Francisco, and everything changed. I bought a lot of high-heeled boots, rediscovered the joys of getting dressed, and felt cuter than I had in a decade.

Now I work alone again, doing a lot of physical stuff — hauling inventory around, packing orders — and I love every minute of it. I leave my building a lot now, and I’m in a compound full of studios where many others are here working during the day. So it’s not like before. But the nice clothes? The high-heeled boots? None of it has any place in my life now. It’s also cold in my workspace, I may have mentioned. My chief concerns when getting dressed in the morning are mobility and preventing my toes from freezing and falling off. I’m not in pajamas, but I might very well be in a flannel shirt and baggy jeans and Converse (with socks and shearling insoles). Not a pretty picture.

On top of all that, Bob and I are having increasingly serious discussions about our next move — when and where that might be — and of course any thought of future packing prompts visions of immediate purging. As much as I would like to throw it all out* [SEE NOTE BELOW] and start over (ok, maybe everything except Acer), that’s obviously not an option.

And on top of that, I have ever-evolving feelings and opinions about store-bought vs handmade clothes — aesthetic concerns, financial concerns, ethical concerns. I have always loved making my own clothes, and adding knitting to my (comparatively rudimentary although longstanding) sewing skills has opened up new worlds in terms of what I’m capable of making for myself. But when you have a closet full of clothes that aren’t right for you in one way and another, can’t afford to replace them all at once, and don’t have nearly enough time to make all the things you might actually need and want, what do you do?

I’m not sure — yet — why I’m babbling about all of this to you, except that it’s VERY on my mind lately. A couple of years ago, my nearby LYS owner Kristine Vejar started Seam Allowance, which asks members to pledge to make “just” 25% of their wardrobes. Last year I watched in awe as people participated in Me Made May, posting photos of themselves day after day after day in clothes they’d made by hand. Sarai Mitnick has started a series on her Colette blog about architecting a wardrobe more thoughtfully. And I believe in all these things, as well as not contributing to the disposable fashion culture and all it entails. When I was packing for the trade show a couple of weeks ago, I was painfully aware of the fact that I had nothing handmade to wear to the show. None of my bulky sweaters were going to be appropriate, especially in sunny San Diego, and I was kind of horrified at how little else there is in my closet that I made for myself. (Thankfully, I had the sweater Meg made me, which I wore and got tons of compliments on.) But given the dire situation with my wardrobe right now, the thought of trying to make even 25% of the things I need — even if I could figure out what those are! — gives me instant anxiety. Where on earth would I find the time?

So for the moment, I’m just airing this. I know I want to find a way to buy less and make more, on some achievable scale. I know I need to figure out how I want to be dressing myself — stylishly but sensibly — for the actual life I’m living and the person I want to project to the world. And I want to do a better job of making things that fill actual gaps in my wardrobe: to be as thoughtful with my project choices as I have always been with purchases. (I’ve long followed that rule about not buying anything if I can’t immediately put together three outfits with it, using only things I already own. And yet that has never applied to my knitting.) So I guess this is some sort of an intro. To what? I don’t exactly know yet, but having written and reread this, thoughts are already beginning to form about ways to tackle it all, bit by bit. So that’s a good thing!

And I’ve made one decision. The only thing I have on the needles for myself right now is my Slade cardigan, and it meets all the requirements I have of adding a new garment to my wardrobe, so I’m going to proceed with it. But it might take me awhile to untangle this mess of mine, and until I have some semblance of a master plan, I’m not casting on anything else for myself. Period.


UNRELATED: The first of the crochet hooks have arrived at Fringe Supply Co.!

AND: I’m hiring. Please pass it along! Thanks, everybody — the position has been filled!


*I didn’t anticipate anyone taking this literally so want to be really clear about this: I don’t throw away clothes! If they’ve been worn to the point of rags, they literally go in the rag bin in Bob’s studio. The like-new stuff gets offered to friends. Workish stuff gets donated to Dress for Success or a similar organization. And everything else goes to Goodwill.

88 thoughts on “My personal wardrobe crisis

  1. I did a bunch of purging a few years ago. Oddly enough, it was because I watched the BBC version of What Not to Wear. They kept telling people they had a “uniform” that they needed to get rid of. And boy, did I have a uniform. Boxy v-neck t shirts in multiple colors and just a few pairs of pants because I was always waiting until I lost weight to buy more. I had stuff that was YEARS old, as well as stuff I hadn’t worn in years. I got rid of my uniform. Got rid of the OLD stuff, even if I wore it and especially if it didn’t flatter me. I went back to my shoe fetish from my college days. (You don’t have to lose weight to buy shoes.) I bought a few more up-to-date items, and then I (for multiple reasons) started losing weight. I’ve been buying clothes ever since, so my closet is still jammed, but at least it’s stuff I like and I wear. Good luck on your wardrobe odyssey. :)

    • Shoes do make all the difference, and that’s a big part of my problem right now — so footwear challenged about my current existence.

      But I think there’s a difference between a uniform and a rut. A uniform can be really helpful in keeping you from amassing some random hodgepodge of clothes that don’t work together, and can make it a whole lot easier to get dressed in the morning.

      • I think they used uniform as in, “ugly, possibly shapeless, and it does nothing for you, but you keep on wearing it in different variations,” vs. one’s style that you tend toward. Mine was definitely the former instead of the latter. I was hiding in my clothes.

  2. I feel your pain. I work at home so mostly no one ever sees me. My wardrobe is full of fancy work clothes and other things I never wear anymore. Especially shirts from the higher waistband era, which I hung on to and are now too short to wear with any of my low-rise jeans. I love to make stuff but don’t have time to construct a complete overhaul from scratch. I have individual pieces that I love, but I don’t know how to wear them and with what. I have no idea how to accessorize. I feel like a total disaster.

  3. I’m finally beginning to accept that pjs and lounge clothes ARE my work clothes, and have started buying more of them (and trying to buy nicer looking ones, like leggings or well-fitting yoga pants, so my poor husband doesn’t mistake me for a pile of rags sitting on the sofa.) The step I’m at now is admitting that I’m never going to wear the jeans with the too-tight waists even if they were expensive and make my butt look great, and that I really only ever want to wear black and gray out of the house, and slowly culling out the things that aren’t getting used.

    My strategy, since I’m a wimp about actually throwing out perfectly good clothes and I know I change my mind a lot, is to put things in storage bins for awhile. Then two years later, I go through again, pull out anything I’ve been missing and sell/donate the rest. (I also have a big “dye this black or gray” bin, right now. Gotta get some RIT.) That might be a good solution for you if you don’t know what the future will hold but need to get some crap outta that closet asap. Just do a pretend-cull and box things up :-)

    I don’t really sew (I don’t have the time or space and I don’t enjoy it as much as knitting) so I’ll probably never make 25% of my wardrobe. I’ve been aiming to buy higher quality things (usually originally-pricey stuff that’s made it to the TJ Maxx clearance rack, but still!) but honestly, pretty much all of my t-shirts were $5 and most have lasted me for years. “Fast fashion” doesn’t actually have to be fast, if you take decent care of things and are a bit careful about what you buy in the first place.

    • I have this idea that I might literally pull everything out of the closet (bedroom is a disaster anyway) and only allow things back in as I wear and like wearing them.

      But I need to implore you not to settle into a life of pj’s and yoga pants. In ten years you will be so pissed at yourself for climbing onto that slippery slope. Yes to giving up the uncomfortable jeans you’ll never wear, though.

      • I just did that today. I mean the pull verything out of the closet and only allow thing back in when I like them. Now I have only 1/5 or so left. I have read the “magic cleaning” book, and while that sounds very new-agey, the idea is basically to go to your stuff based on categories and touch every thing you own and try to find the answer to the question t “does this make me happy?”
        I was rather astonished that a) I could really answer that question and b) that a lot of things didn’t make the cut, including some hand-knitted. Well, some of them are on the “to be frogged” bin, others I am going to give away.

        Now for the Pjs and yoga pants, I really have now a few loungewear items, including Toasts knited leggins, which I adore but they must be nice enough to be seen outside the house as well.

  4. Just to let you know you are not alone, very few of us have it all together and most of us do not know who we are. We know who we would like to be, a totally different thing. If you can wait till Spring, then you will feel like purging the pile.

    • It’s been spring here for over a month. (Relentlessly sunny and 70s.) I have the urge all the time. I just get bogged down in not knowing what to keep or toss, not understanding how I want to be dressing right now. But I need to face up to that.

  5. Karen, get a grip here. Sounds to me like what you want to do and have time to do are totally different. While you would love to be making 25% of your wardrobe….take a breath here. Think about putting that on the back burner for when you do have time .
    I think Alex is right. Pack up those items you don’t wear so much anymore and store them away until you can see if you really need them.
    And it’s funny this should be your subject today. I just ask Meg to give me a day as a birthday present and come over and help me be brutal with sorting clothes and, sadly, yarn. Items I never wear or have outgrown and yarn I purchased before I know what I preferred to knit.
    Wish I were closer and we could purge your cramped closet together!!

  6. It must be the time of year, because I have been feeling this way as well! Just feeling a like a new person, and needing a massive wardrobe overhaul (also, we had a moth problem, so that didn’t help). I do feel really strongly about knitting myself some sweaters that are more like the kind I would want to buy, in basic, wear-with-anything colours so that I really get a lot of use out of them. Also, I’m focusing on buying things that are better quality from stores that I respect, to avoid just buying cheap, disposable clothing that doesn’t last long and is too shabby after a couple years to even be much use for a donation bin. Also focusing on fabrics that wear well- so much of that cheap mall-bought jersey fabric looks awful so quickly.

    • Yes to the new person thing. A lot of times, I’ll put on some of those clothes left from my downtown era, and feel like I’m wearing a costume — that I’m dressed up as a former self.

  7. My stylish friend once told me, ” a nice pair of earrings and a necklace can really elevate ( I remember that word) a tee shirt and jeans”. I go with that stratagy. :)

  8. we all feel your pain. I have a few pieces of commonsense advice. A bit of background-2 years ago I lost 70 pounds, going from 205 lbs to 135 lbs in 6 months. This took hard work and dedication. I had the typical huge wardrobe with sizes from 14 to 20.
    I made a commitment to only have clothes that fit, looked nice and that I actually wore.

    Step one: set up a series of bins or bags. Donate. Sell. Off season. Small
    Step two: try on everything. If it is too big-sell or donate. If it looks terrible and you don’t like it, but it was a bargain and had a designer label etc-sell or donate. If it is off season-store for the next season. Some west coast climates won’t have a big store bin, but you aren’t going to wear your summer shorts and tops in the middle of winter. If you are actively working to lose wt. save pieces you love in the small bin and try them on every couple of weeks.
    Step three: take all sell/donate clothes away immediately. Keep am active donate bin and donate each week.
    Step for: organize your closet into tops and bottoms, maybe by colour. Put a marker on every coat hanger. This could be a clothes pin, a ribbon-something removable. As you wear a piece take the marker off. set yourself a challenge-you can only wear an item once until you have worn every piece.

    If you put something on and you just don’t like it-put it in the donate bin right away. If it is too big donate it. DO NOT KEEP FAT CLOTHES….YOU WILL GROW INTO THEM

    Each month assess what hasn’t been worn-do you really need those pieces?

    if you wardrobe is still too big-pile like items and donate one or two. I had a dozen black long sleeve shirts, tons of white dress shirts.

    before you by anything, decide what it will replace and donate that item.

    Good luck

    • Congratulations on your weight loss! That’s an amazing accomplishment.

      I was thinking as I was writing this that for a lot of people the key issues are seasons and weight gain/loss, and I don’t have either of those to deal with. Mine challenges are more existential, which is weird. But yeah, I don’t own any “summer” clothes and the “winter” ones are pretty much all in year-round rotation.

      Oh, that’s not strictly true. I just realized part of what’s in that Ikea wardrobe is a pile of shorts, which I own for the sake of occasional vacations. They just aren’t part of my wardrobe in any meaningful sense — they are perpetually stored.

  9. I feel your pain Karen. One thing that I do when I feel that I need to vamp up my wardrobe is manipulate pieces that I don’t wear or are inappropriate for what I need until things that I will wear more often. I literally throw everything that I don’t wear onto my bed, take out my scissors, and start cutting. I turn long sleeve tees into tank tops or short sleeves, if I don’t wear a dress because it’s too long or an awkward length I cut it into a more flattering length, and if a top is too long I cut it into a crop top – which has been my favorite look lately. If the finished product doesn’t turn out, well, I didn’t wear it anyways so I toss it – I wanted to clean out my closet anyways!

    Now, I’m a college student – so I realize this approach is not appropriate or appealing to people at a different stage in life (and probably me in a couple of years), but I think this technique could be good for you if instead of attacking your closet with scissors you attack it with your sewing machine! It would solve both of your problems: you would be “making” more of your clothes, and you would have more items that are appropriate!

    • I did used to do a lot more altering of off-the-rack clothes, and buy things thinking I’m going to tweak them (like about 6 pairs of men’s pants/jeans in the past year that I mean to straighten) and then I never get to it. So they’re taking up space rather than being worn, because without those changes they’re wrong wrong wrong.

  10. I’ve also been taking the more tailored work clothes that I hate wearing to a local consignment shop. Although I rarely see much profit, that little check makes it easier to purge.

  11. Maybe this idea is already in the comments – but maybe you could host a clothing swap. It’s an easy way to send the items you don’t wear off to a good home, and maybe even grab a few pieces that you’re looking for.

    Everything left over can be donated to Out of the Closet (or your thrift store of choice).

    • Traditionally, I fairly routinely give the best stuff to friends I know will like/wear it, then nice work stuff to Dressed for Success or similar, then the rest to Goodwill. I’ve never done a swap, but my friend Leigh hosts them once in awhile.

  12. Oh my gosh, it’s like you’ve read my mind. I just moved from rural Vermont to urban Philadelphia, and I’m trying to sort out what that means for my wardrobe. (I also just graduated from law school, where it was completely appropriate to wear plaid flannel shirts and LL Bean boots nearly year-round, and am starting a legal career, where it is much less appropriate to wear those things). When we moved, my husband and I made a GIANT purge of our closet (we’re talking entire car-loads) of items we didn’t like or that didn’t fit. It felt so good. For awhile, I thought I now had an ideal start to a wardrobe–it was severely pared down. Yet, I am still finding that I frequently look at my closet with disgust. I too sew–and I’m new to knitting–so I have lots of aspirations about not buying, only making, etc. I’m working on it, but it is very hard when you really want to toss 75% of what you currently own all at once, only to realize that then you’d be left with virtually nothing to wear!

  13. The wonderful description of your closet and surrounding area sounds just like my own clogged to the brim area. With a little help I’ve started purging. Not an easy thing for someone who loves saving things ‘ just in case’….. And all too good to just put in a bin to be shredded. My criteria for discarding: if I’ve forgotten that I had it and would not have searched for it to wear anyway, it could be discarded. It worked for me and I found a recipient who could either use or pass it on. No recriminations.
    And by the way – I don’t think uniforms are bad – they leave more time for other more creative pursuits
    Good luck with your dilemma! Karen.

  14. Yes to purging. Yes to the idea of making clothes you love. BUT – remember – there is little value in pitching clothes you already own (even if they are the least ethical clothes on the planet) if you can make them work for you, instead of making them “waste”. Consider: what could you really be using and enjoying? Would a few well-placed alterations or tailorings convert the clothes you already have to something wearable? Which more limited selection should you save for those occasions when you are NOT in a warehouse, that will prevent you from having to buy something in future. (Example: I have a few fancy dresses, each of which I wear very rarely -barely once per year. BUT – I rotate them, so that they are “new” to the event I am attending, and that keeps me from having a wardrobe emergency when I have a fancy function to attend.) If they really cannot be made useful – then consider: consignment, donation to “transition to employment” programs, plain old donation, etc.

    The idea of getting rid of perfectly good clothes to make/purchase clothes that more closely fit an ideal makes me a bit nervous……

    Also- and this is a genuine question – is there information out there about ethical sources of fabric and fiber? If you can afford wool from a sheep you’ve met personally – well I can see how that works – but for many individual makers, I am not certain that what’s available in the average store or fabric shop is necessarily from a source that will better the planet, simply because they’ve used those materials to make something themselves. (Not sure I’ve phrased this question in a sufficiently articulate fashion – but maybe someone will clarify on my behalf?)

    • I never throw things out, unless they’re worn beyond use. Noted this on a previous comment, but I give like-new stuff to friends and donate the rest.

      This is the first time in my life I’m looking at sweaters for potential to be raveled rather than given away.

      And yes, there’s been a big movement the past few years toward knowing the source of your yarn. Fabric is much harder.

  15. Oh my gosh, it’s like you read my mind. I recently moved from rural Vermont to urban Philly, and I’m still trying to sort out what that means for my wardrobe. I also just graduated from law school, where it was completely apropos to wear flannel shirts and LL Bean boots nearly year-round, and starting a legal career, where it is much less appropriate to dress that way. When we moved, my husband and I did major closet purges (we’re talking entire car-loads of stuff!), and for awhile, I thought I had a great start to a wardrobe since I had pared down so much. Yet, I find myself still staring at my closet with disgust. I, too, am a sewer and a new knitter, so I have grand visions of making instead of buying. But, it’s so hard when you want to discard 75% of what you own all at once–then I realize I’d have nothing to wear!

  16. I have two suggestions: one is to host a clothing swap with friends whose styles you feel are compatible with your general aesthetic. I know you said that right now you’re not quite sure “who you are” in terms of fashion but a good quality clothing swap can be really refreshing. My second suggestion is to cull anything that is still in good shape but that you know you would never wear again and put it up for sale. Ebay is a great place for both sellers and buyers and you would then know the item would be used (rather than tossed in the garbage). As for knitting/sewing a percentage of your wardrobe, I love that idea and hope to reach such a goal for myself this year. And you’re right, cast on only garments that really speak to you (or in my case, has classic lines). Good luck!

  17. Karen, I have been following your blog for awhile and it appears to me that you know your own style very well. You have a very classic and understated look in what you show in your blog posts. Your likes seem to be beautifully tailored but not to the extreme. A white shirt, slacks/jeans, a good pair of shoes with your special style of jacket/cardigan/sweater can take you most places. You love shoes so that just makes the package that much nicer. I do not see you as all over the board but very much knowing who you are and what you like. I have always admired that in your posts. Your closet may be daunting due to the act of life changing jobs. I have gone through this very thing and have hung on to those very fine wool skirts and tailored blouses that no longer fit into my artist/ranch lifestyle at present. Set things aside that are truly nice that you do not see yourself wearing at present. Get your closet to work for you with small sections for the occasional office or party outing. You have style and it shows!

    • Yes, I agree with this. Karen, you do know your style. Let yourself mourn—if need be—the passing of your “fashionable” self, and dress the self you have fashioned! I would only urge you away from high-heeled anything. There IS a middle ground between Converse and heels!

      • I do — you’re both right. And I know it well. It’s just a matter of figuring out what the medium-casual version of it is, so I don’t look and feel like a slouch.

  18. Everything else in my life may be chaotic, (paperwork are you listening?) but my closet is a joy. Some years ago a friend told me that I should completely empty whatever it was I was de-cluttering- drawer, closet, room, clean the space thoroughly, reline, paint, etc. and then put back less than 50% of the items and keep it that way. Well,…. I could do the emptying part. And the cleaning part. And then…. Flash of insight. I only put back into the (tiny) closet what I really really loved and immediately needed and what loved me back, and I also took care to arrange things so that they were beautiful because I get interested in that part. And I kept the 50 % rule faithfully. Then I threw or gave away what was easy to toss, (I couldn’t bear to part with all that much at the time,sadly) and put what wasn’t so easy (a HUGE amount, like nearly Everything) into large flat boxes that I marked SHOPPING. Done & done really really fast. Like in just a couple of hours, not counting the cleaning, buying boxes, (which I gave myself permission to do because buying them was cheaper than another shopping expedition after all), etc. There were boxes for tops, bottoms, accessories, you get the idea. I shopped out of those boxes for YEARS. They lived under the bed, down in the basement, once in a corner covered with canvas where they pretended to be a strangely shaped table. This year, down to the last box, I finally started wearing a skirt I’d bought ten years ago but then had never once worn. How does that happen?

    Anyway I went from colourful, well, muddy clothing chaos to a black white grey simplicity in one swell foop and I have never ever once regretted my choices. Ever. My closet actually makes me happy! Easy to keep, a pleasure to look at. As a buy-product, having a clear colour palette has also made real world shopping a lot easier, rarer, and cheaper for me.

    Shawls don’t count, however. Or beautiful handmade sweaters. I consider them works of art!

    • I love all of this, Olwyn — especially the 50% rule. Not sure if you saw me commenting about this, but I do think pulling every single thing out of the closet and then gradually letting things back in is the thing to do.

  19. First of all, I’m in total agreement with Ruth, above. “You have style and it shows!” Second, what I will say next is said with total humility because I’m by no means a fashion expert. I’m totally in favour of uniforms. Not the kind mentioned in the first letter, but the kind that comes from knowing your style and your life. I, too, work at home. My uniform is slim jeans, a nice t-shirt (short- or long-sleeved depending on the season), and a seasonally appropriate cardigan. If I ever go back to working outside the home, I can wear the same thing by substituting nice pants for the jeans. The look also works for dressy occasions in nicer fabrics like velvet and silk. Since I will never work in an environment that calls for suits or anything like that, this look will work for me for the rest of my life, even when I’m old. I know this is way too boring for most people, but it works for me. As Ruth said, above, you also already seem to have a uniform. I think you just need more confidence in your choices, and to get rid of all the things that are making you second guess yourself. This is almost as long and rambling as your post, but I hope you get my point.

  20. Damn, that was a lot to read! Lol I think you could probably quilt some of the clothes if you wanted. I’ll purge with you, though I have don’t have much but ENOUGH. For work I would advise layers and maybe Ugg type shoes or flat boots. I’m no fashionista but I have some sense.

  21. This is one of my favorite topics! I have definitely felt the nothing-to-wear feeling even with a closet full. The past few years I’ve been very interested in consuming less and more compassionately. I like fashion and also felt that a smaller wardrobe would be better. This season I culled all things that don’t make me feel great, rounded up my favorite inspiration on pinterest and focused my style. I wrote down every piece I had left in categories of shirts, pants, shoes, etc. Then I made a small list of things that I would like to fill my gaps and set out to find the perfect one of each of those- either handmade or responsibly sourced. My goal is to have just the right amount of things I love that work for my life. I keep going back to my list to write down what I think the perfect amount of items is in each category (always less than I have there now). Now that I feel like I have that set, and I can easily replace something when I need to…again with a handmade piece, if I’d like.

  22. Too much in your wardrobe can clog your head and get confusing when trying to choose what to wear….my motto is if I have not worn it in the last two years it goes. Two years ago a close girlfriend and I made a New Year’s Resolution to not purchase any new clothes for a whole year (the exception was underwear). It was fantastic. I never thought I would do it but I did. It taught me a valuable lesson……sometimes less is more and I certainly learnt some darning, patching and recycling skills.

  23. My suggestion? Start by talking to a local stylist. Although it might seem like an expensive splurge, the right person might actually save you money by helping you understand where you do have gaps that legitimately need filling and what things you should really ditch. Good luck!

  24. Karen, first, thanks so much for your lovely blog — it’s a joy to read and has become a favorite.
    I’d like to offer some different suggestions that may help solve a few of your specific problems:
    1. For your cold feet: buy shoes that have more sole between you and the pavement. Danskos, Chacos, Naots and Keens are some of my favorites (I’m a landscape designer and outdoors in all sorts of weather *and* with clients at the same time). Save your stylish shoes for dates with your husband!
    Pair these with hand knit, wool socks for warmth, comfort and a bit of “me-made” to flash.
    2. Make some smaller accessories like fingerless gloves or wrist-warmers and cowls in non-bulky weights for a quick shot of warmth and color. These can be a great way to show off your personal style. There are a number of tutorials for sewn (fabric) infinity loops — cut up some of your discard blouses or buy some (silk!) at the thrift store.
    3. Again for warmth and hand-made style: consider making yourself a work layer such as a smock or apron — perhaps something with a bit of Asian flair? — that would pair well with your uniform.
    4. And about that uniform? Well fitting, flattering, *dark wash* jeans are perfect for your life now. Embrace them.

    • Thanks, Jocelyn — I’m glad you’re enjoying the blog.

      The thick-sole thing is why my Chucks have become my go-to shoes — about an inch of rubber between me and the floor. Plus shearling insoles and, because of the laces, still room for socks. My best bet might be to just buy a pristine pair! That would improve the situation right there.

  25. I have been thinking a lot about this lately as well. I’m naturally a huge purger: if I haven’t worn it in a year, it’s getting donated. I feel I’m able to justify this by have a pretty small, strategic wardrobe. I make sure that things can be worn year round, like a skirt that will go with sandals in the summer as well as with boots and tights in the winter. (But it sounds like you don’t really have that problem). Also, lately I’ve been focusing on buying high quality items that I love and have totally done away with synthetic materials because they just don’t last as long or feel as nice. For basics, I’ve been buying from, I love the idea of factory transparency. I also buy from american apparel because even though their styling is often laughable or downright pornographic, they do make some high-quality pieces from factories based in LA. I have a dream that one day all my sweaters will be handmade. Currently, only two are so it will take several years to get there, but I’m pretty committed even with a slow turnover.

    I think it’s so important for knitters to talk about this! I learned to knit because I thought it would be fun and cool to make *anything* I wanted. And it is, but there are so many other great reasons to knit: supporting american manufacturing (if you buy american yarn) and good farming practices (if you know where your yarn in coming from), ensuring that your clothing is made in a sustainable and ethical way (you made it after all!).

    I’m excited to hear more of your thoughts on this!

    • Great post, Caitlin. I forget about Everlane — thanks for the reminder — and didn’t realize American Apparel has US-made goods. I’m so put off by their advertising, I’ve never been in.

  26. Sending this story your way while working at home in a velvet tunic…

    When I was selling my house, I wanted to make my closets more interesting. I had planned on painting the interiors a dull gold. Mid-project (spackled white, clothes piled on the bed for days – I slept in the guest house) I found out I had a showing that afternoon. Back in went the same old shelf and hanging bar BUT I only put back in the clothes that would make it look like someone really interesting lived there (sort of like the person who I figured would want to buy my little bohemian compound…). These were mostly clothes that I put in the category of being for my Imaginary Life, the one where I go to interesting events and keep the company of wildly interesting people and dress with creative abandon, a wardrobe made of pieces that were mostly purchased at sample sales where one indulges such fantasies. Well, I lived off that wardrobe for three + months and I have to say it was one of my best dressed times. I had taken the rest of it into a large pile, rolled it up and jammed it into the lowest shelf compartment of the room’s built-in where no one would likely see it. I didn’t miss that stuff at all. Ditto with shoes. Only the best and brightest.

    Now it’s how I cull my closet from time to time. I whittle it down to the most beautiful things and do my best to live in them. Life is short.

  27. Having grown up in the woods, I had little fashion sense even after living in Portland Oregon for over a decade. I have only recently started finding my own style and yet to call it my own would be cheating. I have a few women in my love whose style I adore. I also love the stores they own, the stores they shop at and the hobbies they have. I steadfastly copy what works on them because, alas, it works on me! I love the skirts they wear, the aprons they use and the layers they need. I spend more on one shirt now that I’m “following” them, but I wear that shirt…all the time. Ditto the jeans, the apron and the boots.
    My suggestion, therefore, is to find those women whose style you love. Chances are, you are loving their style and other things about them, too. I have found I get more compliments now than ever before. Not so much because I’m wearing a great shirt, but because I feel great wearing that shirt and it shows.
    Some food for thought:
    keeping warm:: boots. I have 6 pairs and I wear them all. Socks are good too, unless you get too hot. Then it’s time to change into those Cydwoqs you brought from home or have stashed under the work table. Cashmere is great for layering as are vests. I love cardigans especially (hello, your new Acer :) as they give that much more flexibility in what is underneath and temperature changes. I also wear a lot of linen as it layers well and when our weather is what I describe to my children as “winter in the morning, summer in the afternoon” that linen is going to go nicely under your cardigan and vest and show its best self at 3pm. Skirts are awesome~I have just a few and wear them year round.

  28. Karen, I just went through my closet, did a major purge, and I’m loving it now! I had to devote at least half a day to the project, but so worth it.

    • I knew I was far from alone! It’s funny how much just writing it and trying to start sorting my thoughts helped me start thinking about how to sort the stuff.

  29. Karen, I recently discovered the long sleeved and 3/4 length jewel neck tops by Jones NY sport. I love them and they go perfect with sweaters, scarves, layers, etc. etc. Then you can dress them up or down with jeans or leggings and boots or ballet flats. And it’s a really comfy versatile way to dress and I do feel – somehow – put together. :) LOVE your blog! Leslie

  30. Sweet, sweet Karen! I think this should be a year-long project for you. In the next week, take one day to organize. Start by hanging everything! Place the hanger on the rod backwards, if from one year from “organization” day, a hanger has remained backwards, get rid of it. There. Done.

    • See — I have trouble with those kinds of rules because I take close in and out of rotation all the time. Sometimes things have been in my underbed boxes for YEARS and then suddenly they’re my favorite and most-worn thing again. But however I go about it, it really could take me a year to straighten it all out.

  31. Oh gosh, that sounds very stressful. :/ Organising/culling things is my favourite topic but it’s also an emotional one for a lot of people.
    I have re-read your post a couple of times and the one thing that stood out to me was that you said throwing all your clothes out is ‘not an option’, but I couldn’t work out why. Why can’t you put some time aside, delve into your wardrobe and start culling things? Surely there are a bunch of things in your wardrobe that immediately make you say ‘no’ when you look at them?
    When it comes to owning or buying anything, I would immediately ask myself:

    1. Do I love it?
    2. Does it serve a purpose?
    3. Does it make me feel fantastic when I wear it/look at it?
    4. Is it flattering?

    If you can’t answer yes to all of those questions, it shouldn’t be in your house. In my mind, it’s not about creating a certain ‘look’, but ensuring that the things you own make you feel amazing. The ‘look’ comes naturally from the confidence you project when you feel awesome.

    Try not to feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of things you own, just chip away at it slowly. If you really want to see some change you need to be brutal and stop holding onto things that ‘might be useful some day’. Remember that there are other people (eg Goodwill) who will benefit from things that are just sitting in your wardrobe.

    Good luck!

    • Well, I can’t really go around naked! So some things have to stay. But yes, there are all sorts of things in there that I’m hanging onto because I spent so much on them or I like the idea of them or I think they might be useful someday, etc, as you said. You’re absolutely right about focusing on the fact that hanging in my closet they are going to waste while somebody could be putting them to use. That’s a really, really good way of looking at it.

  32. I have spent the last year slowly remaking my wardrobe and while I’m nowhere near finished, it has made me think much more carefully and clearly about what I wear and how I wear it, and thus, what it’s worth to spend money on.

    I still have to do a big wardrobe purge, but I think slow is key. Figure out what pieces you wear all the time and then ask yourself why you wear them: Do you like how they look? Are they comfortable? Are they work appropriate? Or are they just what’s around? Knowing why you wear what you do can help you either build more of that kind of piece into your wardrobe, or discard it if the only reason you wear it is because it’s there.

    Making my own clothes is something I totally aspire to. One of my big goals this year is to improve my sewing and maybe make a couple of summer tops (Wiksten tank, hello) and maybe a dress, all of which are work appropriate for my casual office. I don’t foresee having the time/actual desire to make 25% of my wardrobe, but I’m trying. I’ve stopped buying sweaters I know I could make for myself. I knit all my socks, hats, mitts, etc. They’re little things, but they add up.

    Hang in there. You’re a smart lady and probably what you most needed was to put this out there and then make a plan. When you do, I sure hope you’ll let us in on it :)

  33. You look so great in Meg’s sweater and look like you feel it too. Wish you could get her to tell us how she did it.
    Maybe you should only keep what makes you feel great.
    I purge but fill it up again with things that need to go . Just because you have the space, it doesn’t have to be full.

    • Keeping only what makes me feel great is going to be rule number one. I’ve been putting too much emphasis on some of the other parameters.

      And Meg has had a lot on her plate, but one of these days we’ll get it together!

  34. I’ve just moved house for the third time in nine months and each time I’ve had to pack up my clothes, I’ve had the opportunity for a clean out. I do work in an office but not so formal that I have different weekend clothes to my work clothes, but there were plenty of cute party dresses in there that never got worn because they either weren’t appropriate for an occasion or my social life leaned more towards other activities. I thought I’d miss them once I gave them away, but I’ve hardly given them a second thought.
    I’d say keep the stuff that makes you feel amazing – it might not be something you wear all the time but when you do, you’ll be glad you kept it.
    I’m definitely with you on fitting the knitting into the overall look though – I see a project and just go with it, and then find I have nothing to wear it with. This is something I need to step back and think more about before casting on – yarn isn’t cheap and it’s often a lot of time you’ve invested into something that might not be quite right.

  35. I don’t have a whole lot to add, but I feel your pain. I’m working on making a few new pieces of clothing using Natalie Chanin’s books -–design they are a wealth of clothing ideas and patterns. I am currently making myself a reverse-appliqued skirt from her latest book. I can sew using a machine, but these clothes, all hand-stitched, are the first clothes I’ve made for myself that I totally LOVE and have become major parts of my wardrobe. They fit me great, and I can use thrifted jersey sheets or xl tshirts for the fabric. Hand-stiching may sound slow, but it’s a lot faster than knitting! I really like the heavily embellished look, but even if you go for the more streamlined (and way-faster) plain pattern, I think her stuff has really nice lines.

  36. I have really taken a step back from what I knit and sew for myself nowadays. 15 years of sewing and 10 years of knitting have led to a lot of me-made items that I no longer like, yet I cannot fathom passing them on. These days I really research a pattern/garment before commencing, imagining the right yarn, outfit, occasions in which to wear it, almost to the point of fault – I’ve been planning the Fuse Cardigan by Veronik Avery for perhaps 6 months! But it makes for a better wardrobe, and it is a start. I find that it results in a much more cherished item than the “this’ll do” grab from the stash and the first free pattern I fancy…

  37. I have the opposite but equal connundrum. I have virtually nothing in my wardrobe in general, and even less that fits me at the moment due to a significant weight gain last year…thank you meds! Throw into the mix a complete lack of a sense of my own style and I’m feeling the same way as you. I’m participating in the Colette project…I’m hoping it will help me make a plan to move forwards. I wish you luck.

    • Loved the wear your joy posts! That is a big part of closet ….getting rid of the stuff that you honestly don’t want to wear anymore. Hmmm, I’ve got to go look at my closet again! I am 49. I should be wearing things that bring me joy.

  38. My birthday is New Year’s Day, so I’ve never been in the habit of making resolutions (just not what I want to think about on a day where I just want cake, you know?). But at the beginning of 2010, I was just out of a long relationship that ended poorly, I didn’t know who I was anymore, and I was looking for ways to make positive changes in my life. So for the first time in my life, I made resolutions. I think there were five, but the only one I remember was the one I actually kept: I pledged to buy no new clothing all year (barring undergarments). If I wanted new clothes, I’d have to make them. I largely made that decision because I was working for Anthropologie at the time, and spending way too much of my pitiful salary on clothes I really didn’t need. And I did make a few items of clothing that year – a couple of sweaters, and I definitely remember sewing a skirt, and altering a shirt I already had. But the most amazing thing was that I realized I didn’t really need any new clothing. I was pretty happy with what I had. This means I was in a different situation than you are right now, obviously, but I remember being so surprised at how easy it was to acquire less clothing once I got out of the habit of buying new stuff all the time. I just thought I would share that experience! Mostly it just made me more thoughtful about the clothes that I buy and wear in general.

    Nowadays I try to buy independent and vintage, when I can, which *is* more expensive, but it means I buy pieces that really become staples in my wardrobe that I wear over and over again. My two main spots are Trove ( for vintage and Velouria ( for independent designers. Both are in Ballard, the same neighborhood where the Nordic Knitting Conference is happening in October, so let this stand as my offer to take you to both if you make it up for the conference! If I’m buying mass-market stuff I usually opt for H&M, because they appear to have taken some steps toward being more responsible about how their clothing is produced.

  39. Reading the first few lines, I was worried that you’d made a quick visit to Austin and were describing the scene at my house. Whew! Although I’d have been sooooo embarrassed, but I’m even more relieved to find so many others share this challenge and offered some great solutions.

  40. You could likely sell a lot of your stuff. Even if you posted one item sometimes at the end of a blog post. Then you know what you love but don’t wear will go to a loving home.
    You can also support other makers, like on Ebay. I love one shop and a lot of what I wear is what she makes. Comfy, can be paired with a lot of things. Daily use, but not quite baggy jeans.

  41. Why do we all have these clothes that don’t fit our lifestyles or bodies?
    At the Coletterie bog they are doing a on going piece called wardrobe architect that makes you think about what you really need and like so that you might not end up with all these unused items.

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